Home IT management Most CEOs Say Their Organizations Are Not Prepared To Deal With A Major Crisis: New Survey

Most CEOs Say Their Organizations Are Not Prepared To Deal With A Major Crisis: New Survey

Most CEOs Say Their Organizations Are Not Prepared To Deal With A Major Crisis: New Survey


A basic rule for successfully managing corporate crisis situations is to plan and prepare for them. Unfortunately, most surveyed CEOs don’t think their organizations are prepared to deal with a major crisis. Less than half (49%) said they are ready for a pandemic or global health crisis; 41% are prepared for cybersecurity crises; and 39% have planned for financial instability.

That’s according to The Conference Board’s C-Suite Outlook 2023, which was released last week. The survey of 670 CEOs around the world measured the extent to which they felt their organizations were ready for 15 crisis situations. The list of other crisis triggers—and how prepared the executives said they are ready to deal with them—includes:

  • Recession (36%)
  • High inflation (31%)
  • Surge in energy prices (31%)
  • Supply chain disruption (28%)
  • Expansion of war in Ukraine (17%)
  • Extreme climate events (16%)
  • Water shortages (15%)
  • Food shortages (14%)
  • Civil unrest (13%)
  • Terrorism (12%)

Tied for last place on the list was an armed conflict between major powers (6%) and the use of a tactical nuclear weapon in the war in Ukraine (6%).

But the list is the tip of the iceberg of the hundreds of human and nature-related triggers that can cause a crisis for companies and organizations. It reinforces the reality that it’s not a matter of if a business will have a crisis but when.

What’s At Stake

Without a crisis management plan in place, when a crisis strikes, corporate executives will be forced to scramble to decide what do, when to do it, how to do it, who will do it, where to do it, and why they should do it.

And every minute they spend trying to figure out how to respond to a crisis will put business leaders farther behind in dealing with the situation. The failure of companies to respond quickly and strategically could damage their brand, image, and bottom line and place them at a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace.

‘CEOs Are Significantly More Pessimistic’

“CEOs are significantly more pessimistic than the rest of the C-suite when it comes to crisis management,” Paul Washington, executive director of the Environmental, Social and Governance Center at The Conference Board, said in a statement.

“While 53% of C-suite executives believe they are well prepared for a major crisis in cybersecurity, only 41% of CEOs say that’s the case,” he noted.

“That carries through to other areas: supply chain disruptions (36% vs. 28%); and high inflation (40% vs. 31%). The gap is surprising because many companies have recently been through such crises. 

“At the same time, CEOs in Europe say updating risk management is their #10 priority for 2023. Neither crisis nor risk management makes the top 10 priorities for U.S. CEOs,” Washington observed.

Don’t Be Lulled Into A False Sense Of Security

“There are so many different problems and triggers that can result in a crisis,” Michael Toebe, a practicing specialist at Reputation Quality, a crisis advisory and communications company, said via email.

He said it was “doubtful” that business leaders impacted by a crisis had thought they would ever be confronted by such a situation, But that underscores why “CEOs should be engaged in the daily observing, reading, watching and listening of crises occurring in organizations” to ensure that they are not lulled into a false sense of security,” Toebe advised.

“To assume you have everything under control is dangerous thinking and not conducting risk management wisely,” he observed.

The Benefits Of A Holding Statement

Before CEOs find themselves in a crisis situation, they should prepare holding statements “for situations where you aren’t able to [immediately] respond or provide a comment, situations where you need to buy time before providing a comment, or other potential scenarios,” Jonny Swift, vice president of Impact Communications, a PR and marketing firm, said via email.

He said examples of a holding statement include:

  • “We’re still gathering information related to this issue, and we’ll get back to you as soon as we have more formal comments to provide.”
  • “Due to legal constraints and/or a non-disclosure agreement, we are not able to provide additional comments at this time.”
  • “I wish I could discuss the matter with you, but due to confidentiality and/or legal constraints, that is something we simply can’t do right now. What I can tell you is… [direct them to something you’d rather highlight or have them focus on, say you’ll reach out if anything changes, etc.].”

Preparing holding statements ahead of time will help ensure “that they are thorough, accurate, and thoughtful, but it will reduce the amount of stress and issues you’re dealing with as you are trying to handle the crisis and put out the fire,” Swift concluded.

How To Prepare Now For A Crisis

Update Systems And Processes

To prepare for a crisis, CEOs must “update their company’s systems and processes to deliver critical information they need in real time,” Moshe Cohen, who teaches leadership, negotiation, organizational behavior and mediation at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, said via email.

Create A Communication Plan

“CEOs should create a communication plan using both internal resources and external partners to get ahead and on top of the messaging during a crisis and establish themselves as pivotal contributors to the communication team’s efforts, he recommended.

Assemble A Crisis Management Team

Timothy Williams, vice chairman of global security firm Pinkerton, said CEOs should prepare now for a major crisis by taking these steps:

  • “Appoint a crisis management team…based on their specific industry risks, their history with crisis situations and industry expertise.”
  • “Ensure the crisis management team leader is chosen based on their knowledge of the company, industry and reputation within the culture. This individual must possess advanced critical thinking/negotiating skills and emotional intelligence to handle fast-paced, stressful situations, sometimes over an extended period of time.”
  • “Provide adequate funding and allocation of time from other duties for crisis management team members to ensure they are prepared to manage any crisis.”
  • “Make sure C-suite executives and management at large are aware of the [team] process; have the C-suite participate in crisis simulations periodically to ensure they understand how the [team] will operate and decisions in a crisis will be made.”

About The Survey

The C-Suite Outlook 2023 anonymous survey was conducted between mid-November and mid-December 2022, with 1,131 C-suite executives responding, including 670 CEOs.

According to The Conference Board, 24% of CEO and other C-suite respondents were based in companies headquartered in the U.S.; 20%in Latin America; 16% in Europe; 13% in Japan; and 12% in China.


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